Thursday, June 19, 2008

Torture, Torture, Torture

If you haven't already, you must read McClatchy's series this week on American torture and suspension of morality and legality in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, all orchestrated by the Bush administration itself. The McClatchy series is a crucial document. It shows what I've said over the past few years: that all torture institutions involve innocents.

As I've suggested repeatedly (see, for example, this Helsinki Commission testimony), a system of information-gathering operates necessarily in a state of ignorance and uncertainty. The actual degree of ignorance within the US system from top to bottom, as we learn more about the US gulag archipelago, is simply stunning. But any such system will operate with limited information. More information comes through more interrogation, the US having chosen the way of torture. But limited information means limited certainty about the guilt of prisoners and torture victims. The Bush administration has waved off such concerns, repeating the mantra "9-11." In a morbid way, they are right since any torture system will torture innocents. Always.

We can run through the arguments once again for why torture is never justified, if you like. Torture is not morally justifiable. Nor is it useful for its stated purpose of information-gathering. At this point, with the number of posts I've done on torture over the past couple of years, you'll have to buy the book.

When reading pieces like the McClatchy articles, however, remember that if torture is never justified, the "guilt" of the torture victim is a moot point. That's the core of the smokescreen that the Bush administration and other defenders of torture would have you face. They want you to think of their torture victims as "bad" or "evil," a judgment only they the administration may make (in advance of evidence). The innocence of some of the prisoners is, on the other hand, important because it gives the lie to those who have no time for habeas corpus because, they say, these are bad people.

Meanwhile, Americans are apparently largely okay with torture, according to this new Pew Research poll. 43% say torture is justifiable at least sometimes. But note also that an additional 25% say torture is rarely justified. Since the entire discourse on torture in the US is one of extraordinary circumstances (which is an excuse always used by torturing states), this may amount to 68% of Americans being pro-torture.

Torture isn't some grave policy choice made by moral realists; it's a moral sickness. The Bush administration's torture policies are war crimes. And you folks who hold the pro-torture views in the Pew survey are complicit.

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